A U.S. veteran of the Vietnam War will receive the Medal of Honor almost five decades later, the White House said this week.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Kettles has been credited with saving 44 lives on May 15, 1967, as he served as a helicopter commander in the 176th Aviation Company, 14th Combat Aviation Battalion, Americal Division in Duc Pho, South Vietnam.
That day, a North Vietnamese enemy force ambushed soldiers of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. Kettles volunteered to lead six Bell Helicopter UH-1Ds to carry reinforcements to the site and evacuate the wounded. The aircraft came under fire, killing many of the soldiers who were trying to evacuate the area.
Kettles refused to leave until all wounded personnel had been loaded onto the helicopters. According to another soldier in his unit, Roland Scheck, Kettles even returned without any guns or crew to rescue eight soldiers who he realized had been left behind. "This is Medal-of-Honor material right there," he said.
Kettles received the second-highest Army honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for his actions that day. But one volunteer for the Veterans History Project, Willian Vollano, who was charged with assembling a record of oral accounts from formal service members, thought he deserved more.
Vollano appealed to his congressman. With the help from Congress, which waived a requirement that Medal of Honor recommendations be made within three years, Kettles is to receive the award in a White House ceremony scheduled for July 18.
In addition to the Distinguished Service Cross, Kettles received 27 air medals.
Kettles earned two master's degrees in commercial construction and developed the Aviation Management Program at Eastern Michigan University.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army